Yasmin Elsouda, BA International Relations
Whether or not celebrity culture should be politicised is incessantly debated in the media. Is Kanye crazy? Shouldn’t Kaepernick just stick to sports? Why is Kim in The White House? The notion that popular culture is somehow isolated from the rest of the world and does not intersect with politics is ridiculous. Politics is the study of power and interest which exist in all social interactions, especially those of celebrities in the world’s biggest pop culture producing institution. This manifested itself grossly on the 1st of November, where a number of Hollywood stars attended the annual FIDF (Friends of the Israeli Defence Forces) New York Gala.
As an institution, Hollywood has historically been highly political. In fact, there are fields of politics dedicated to the analysis of the popular culture it produces. If that isn’t convincing enough, consider the fact that The Pentagon has to sign off on any material produced that involves specific mention of weapons or war. All those Marvel movies that involve “Stark Industries” have been reviewed (i.e. censored) by the Pentagon. Think about the incessant equation of the Jewish identity with the Israeli one on “Friends” and the release of movies about alien invasions like “Star Wars” at the height of the Cold War. These are examples of how politics filters into fictional productions, not to mention explicitly political productions like biographies and historical films.
The making of such material and the culture it creates is inherently political, not least because it gives those involved a platform that comes with certain power. Why else would party candidates like Hillary Clinton ask celebrities to enlist their support? Ashton Kutcher can bring attention to gun control legislation reform because of his platform. He is able to use the power of his fame to direct people towards a certain interest, a process that is indisputably political. Pharrell Williams demanding that Donald Trump does not play his song “Happy” during his rallies is an exercise of his agency to demonstrate his opposition of Trump. Gerard Butler visiting Israel and remarking that he wished his house would burn down so he could move there is political because it erases Israeli apartheid from the narrative. So when these three celebrities among many others decide to attend a Gala fundraising for the Israeli army, it is irresponsible to not politicise their decision to go.
“The event also emphasised the hypocritical nature of Hollywood’s philanthropy, celebrities are completely comfortable with endorsing a Zionist militant institution whilst simultaneously claiming they support human rights.”
It is not coincidental that this year a record-breaking 60 million dollars were raised for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) at the Gala. The celebrities’ attendance drew unprecedented attention to the event thus helping in generating the funds. It also doubled as an effort that is actively normalising a historically depoliticised representation of the IDF, completely disregarding its human rights violations and its colonial role in the violent establishment of the state of Israel and its maintenance through apartheid practices. The event also emphasised the hypocritical nature of Hollywood’s philanthropy, celebrities are completely comfortable endorsing a Zionist militant institution whilst simultaneously claiming they support human rights. It also erases the Palestinian narrative. Since the 30 March, the IDF have murdered over 200 peaceful protesters (including children, journalists and medics), as well as injuring a further 18,000 people in northern Gaza.
It is incomprehensible to suggest that celebrity culture is not political. There is a lot of power that comes with fame, and the interests that power is directed towards is worth critiquing. It doesn’t get more political than making the decision to support an army that is known for human rights violations and is inherently colonial. Politicising that is important.
Photo Credit: Bloomberg